Potatoes on My Mind, Plus two Delicious Recipes

I’ve been thinking about potatoes, of all things, recently. Maybe it’s the approach of Thanksgiving, because in our house, mashed potatoes are always on the menu. Creamy, buttery, heavenly mashed potatoes — the ultimate comfort food.

potato loveThoughts of potatoes led me to wonder about the love affair between the Irish and that marvelous tuber. Is it truth or stereotype?

Well, Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, conducted a survey recently and found that 52% of all households in Ireland consume one portion of potatoes a day, and one in three homes eat two portions. However, except for dairy products, potatoes are the most consumed produce in the U.S., and the diet of the average person throughout the world in the first decade of the 21st century included about 73 pounds of potato per year.

So yes, potatoes are popular in Ireland — and almost everywhere else as well.

Here are a few interesting facts about the potato, provided by the Irish potato experts at the Irish Potato Federation.

  • In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space when potato plants were taken aboard the space shuttle Columbia. NASA wanted to develop super-nutritious and versatile spuds to feed astronauts on long space voyages.
  • Potatoes contain more potassium than bananas.
  • A potato with its skin contains more vitamin B1 than an equal portion of broccoli or cauliflower.
  • China is now the world’s largest potato-producing country, and nearly a third of the world’s potatoes are harvested in China and India.
  • French fries were first served in America in 1801.
  • Potato chips were invented in New York in 1853.
  • Potatoes are the world’s fourth most important food crop, after corn, wheat, and rice.

So what better way to celebrate the humble spud, beloved by the Irish and people everywhere, than a traditional Irish potato recipe or two?

mashedClassic Mashed Potatoes

2 lb. yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into 2- to 2-1/2-inch pieces
Kosher salt
2/3 cup whole milk; more as needed
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Put the potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan with enough cool water to cover by at least 1 inch. Add 1 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and cook at a gentle boil, skimming off any foam, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Drain well in a colander, letting the steam rise off the potatoes for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk and butter in the saucepan until the butter is melted. Season with 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Return the potatoes to the pan and mash with a potato masher to the consistency you like.

Season to taste with more salt and pepper and thin with additional milk, if necessary, before serving.

BoxtyIrish Potato Boxty

Traditional Irish potato cakes, or boxty, are mostly associated with the north midlands of Ireland in Connacht, and Ulster. The people of Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Fermanagh, Longford, Leitrim, and Cavan are particularly big fans of this delicious and simple style of potatoes.

1 cup raw, grated potatoes
1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup (about) milk to mix
Butter or oil for frying
Sugar (optional)

Place the grated raw potatoes in a clean cloth and twist to remove excess moisture.

Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Combine flour mixture into raw potatoes, mashed potatoes, and eggs. Add enough milk to make a batter.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and add butter or oil. Drop potato batter by the tablespoon into the hot pan. Brown on both sides (about 4 minutes per side). Butter each boxty and serve hot with or without sugar.

linen

And by the way, speaking of Thanksgiving, nothing brings a group of people together quite the way gathering around a table does. And what better place to gather than at a beautifully appointed table featuring a stunning 100% Irish linen table runner embroidered with a modern interpretation of a traditional Celtic design? http://www.EverIrishGifts.com suggests this perfect option from the Irish Linen House, imported from Dublin, Ireland. http://bit.ly/1spGxUi

 

Stay Ever Irish,
Laura

10 Ancient Irish Spells, Just in Time for Halloween!

Everyone knows that on October 31, witches, ghouls, and other beasties come out to play, and magic is in the air. Of course, we at EverIrishGifts.com put our faith year-round in the power of the shamrock to bring luck and good fortune and to ward away evil.

However, since Halloween will soon be here, perhaps you’d like to try your hand at the folk magic of ancient Celtic witches and druids. Whether you are seeking a spell for love, luck, or healing, emotional charms, or even potency, these charms and spells will have something for you. But remember, if all else fails, we’ve got plenty of other lucky shamrocks — shamrock jewelry, shamrock money clips, and even shamrock whiskey flasks — just in case.

1. Love spell

On the night of a full moon, walk to a spot beneath your beloved’s bedroom window. Whisper his/her name three times to the night wind. The night breeze is believed to have a guardian who is compassionate toward requests from mortals between midnight and 1:00 a.m. (the witching hour).

2. To find stolen goods

Place two keys in a sieve, cross ways. Two people hold the sieve while another makes a cross sign on the forehead of the suspected thief, calling out his or her name loudly three times. If the person is innocent, the keys will remain stationary. If the person is guilty, the keys will start to revolve slowly around the sieve.

3. Attract good fortune

You will be lucky with this one. You will need a candle, some string, and a trinket.

Light the candle and loop the string in through the trinket and tie it. Then start swinging the trinket above the flame and chant:

“A candle flickers, this trinket I pass, good energy and fortune come to me, wealth, knowledge, influence, energy,
By good means come to me, wealth, knowledge, influence, energy,
This trinket I pass into power, to attract to me wealth, knowledge, influence, energy, come to me!”

Repeat this three times, then wear the “necklace” around your neck. The more you do this, the more powerful the charm will be.

4. Beauty spell

This spell makes you prettier than you think–just follow the instructions.

During a full moon, take a mirror and go outside (if you can’t then open a window, make sure the moon is reflected on the mirror), take a piece of a picture of your hair, lips, eyes, or whatever you are interested in changing, and place it on the mirror. While concentrating on it, say, “Moonshine, Starlight, let the wind carry your light, let your glow cover my body, and let your shine cover every eye.”

Say it three times and concentrate on the part you want to change. Then say, “Moonshine, Starlight, shape and mold my body, as a rose is granted beauty, let me blossom in your light, the light that brings me beauty, and grant me beauty three times three.”

Say it three times and when you are finished, light a pink candle or incense.

5. To get someone to call you

Take a piece of parchment or fine quality writing paper and inscribe the name of the target. Write it in a circle twice, so the ends meet. As you do this, concentrate on the person’s face and your desire for them to call you. Then, while still concentrating, put a needle through the center of the circle created by the name. Place the charm by the phone.

The call will come within five minutes, five hours, or five days depending on how well the spell was cast and how much willpower was used.

6. Hair binding / Bond of trust

In ancient Ireland, it was customary for a man to braid a bracelet from his hair and give it to the woman he loved–a gift of trust–knowing what can be done to people magically if you possess their hair.

The binding is not activated unless she accepts the gift, thus accepting him and agreeing to the spell. This is not a binding that can be imposed on another person without their knowledge.

7. Healing charm for a wound

Close the wound tightly with the two fingers, and repeat these words slowly:

“In the name of Dagda, Bridget and Diancecht. The wound was red, the cut was deep, and the flesh was sore; but there will be no more blood, and no more pain, ’til the Gods come down to earth again.”

8. A charm for always having money

Take the feather of a black rooster, go to the crossing points of three fairy-paths, and while holding the feather and a gold-colored coin, call the name of the Goddess Áine three times, to bring you everlasting prosperity.

9. Elixir of potency

Two ounces of cochineal, one ounce of gentian root, eight grams of saffron, four grams of snakeroot, four grams of salt of wormwood, and the rind of 10 oranges. All of this should be steeped in a quart of brandy and kept for when it is needed.

10. Charm against depression

When a person becomes low, depressed, and careless about everything, as if all vital strength and energy had gone, he is said to have got a “fairy blast.” Blast-water must be poured over him by the hands of a fairy doctor while saying, “In the name of Lugh with his shining sword, who has strength before the gods and stands among them.”

Be careful to ensure that no portion of the water is dirtied. Whatever is left over after the procedure must be poured onto a fire.

Stay Ever Irish,
Laura

Thanks to the magical folks at IrishCentral for providing information on the spells.

Pushing the Envelope: Antique Irish Maps Out, Postal Codes In

Antique maps of Ireland are beautiful and might be just as helpful in assisting the modern Irish Post Office to deliver the mail as they might have been in the 1800s.

Postman

Why? Because Ireland today, even with its technology-driven economy, does not use any postal codes. Many parts of rural Ireland don’t use street addresses, and some don’t even use street names. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than a third of Ireland’s official 2.2 million residential addresses refer to more than one household, which makes delivering mail quite a challenge in a country full of Murphys, Kellys, and Callahans.

PostboxThe modern world’s first postal codes seem to have been used in London in 1856, while the U.S. first started to use ZIP codes to help mail delivery in 1943. The U.S. Post Office was forced to use the codes during World War II when new mail carriers, unfamiliar with the neighborhoods, were replacing those carriers who had been sent off to the war. As sorting equipment has become more advanced, ZIP codes have gone from five digits to nine to some as long as 31 digits, which show up as bar codes at the bottom of the envelope.

Now it appears that the last holdout, An Post, Ireland’s postal service, will scrap the antique maps of Ireland, the cheat sheets that some carriers carry with handwritten names of residents on their route, and its private internal code system kept hidden from the public. Next spring, it will roll out its own postal code system. Now, when three Kevin Callahans live in the same County Tipperary town, the post office won’t have to deliver mail first to the one who has been there the longest.

Irish_Routes_Visscher_Map_FramedOf course, there is still nothing quite like physically holding an antique map of Ireland to revel in its charm, color, and detail, all laboriously made by hand. http://www.EverIrishGifts.com has a large selection of stunning reproduction antique Irish maps, in the form of a paperweight, coaster, and good old map, all attractively presented in elegant handmade paper packaging. Browse the selection at http://everirishgifts.com/products/Irish_Maps.aspx.

Stay Ever Irish,
Doug

My Second Best Decision

Well, that should make everything clear

Well, that should make everything clear

This past spring, Laura and I visited several of our suppliers in Wales and England. As the studio of Black Dragon Crafts and the workshop of Abbeyhorn are off the beaten track, we decided to rent a car in London and get the full British experience by driving to our destinations. Doing so was a great idea, but the pleasure of meeting hospitable people and taking in breathtaking countryside vistas quickly was joined by frustrating navigational difficulties. The obvious one—driving on the left side of the road—initially was a challenge, but after a turn or two, we felt like we had been doing it all our lives.

Finding our destination, however, was another issue entirely. Street signs, to the American eye, are incomprehensible, roundabouts are inevitable, and addresses are invisible. Following a map is nearly impossible except for determining a general direction, and following directions given by well-intentioned humans can be just as confusing since one road looks pretty much the same as any other.

Luckily for us, I had decided to purchase a GPS for the journey, and it turned out to be almost the best decision I have ever made. Yes, you can have one included with the rental car for about $20 per day, but since I know we will be visiting at least yearly, added to the fact that I could have it easily shipped to our daughter who was studying in London at the time, the unit was well worth the cash outlay. No more cursing, no more going the wrong way down an unmarked one-way street, and most importantly, no more arguments with my wife over which way to turn. While it was not infallible, the GPS certainly reduced the stress level by about 99 percent.

Through its own special GPS (or satnav, as they call it in the UK) magic, it guided us successfully to Black Dragon, which is literally situated beautifully in the middle of nowhere. Unlike in the U.S., one doesn’t have to enter a street address into a GPS; instead, you enter the postal code, and it knows exactly where to direct you. Brilliant.

As it announced a right turn onto Route A59, I thought I probably could have figured that out myself. Then it said to turn left at the next (unmarked) street. I thought, OK, maybe the GPS was a good investment. But all doubt was erased when it then told us to make a right turn right here, which was onto a dirt path. Really? Oh well, it hadn’t steered us wrong yet, so onto the path we drove. Imagine our excitement—and relief—as we winded about a half mile down the path and around a curve to find, lo and behold, Annie and her Black Dragon studio there before us.

Yes, I exclaimed, buying the GPS was the best decision I have ever made. Laura, although just as happy, gently reminded me that, almost 33 years after asking her to become my wife, it was the second best decision I’d ever made. And you know what? I think she’s right.

Stay Ever Irish,
Doug

What’s in a Name–Welsh Style

Welcome to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!

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Yes, believe it or not, that is the actual full name of a village we visited during our recent tour of the Welsh countryside. We’d read about the “town with the long name,” and so we made a point of stopping by while touring the island of Anglesey in Wales, just to see it for ourselves. The name of this charming place, also known by its short-form version–Llanfairpwllgwyngyll–literally translates to “St. Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near to the Rapid Whirlpool of Llantysilio of the Red Cave.” Whew. Weighing in at 58 characters, it is the longest officially recognized place name in the United Kingdom and the second-longest in the world. 

We enjoyed our brief time in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, but we’re pretty glad we don’t have to be able to pronounce it–or to write it out on our return addresses!

Stay Ever Irish (and Welsh),
Laura

Wales Watching

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Doug and I just returned from a very enjoyable and successful buying trip for Ever Irish Gifts, this time visiting England and Wales. We’ve been to England before (and love it), but Wales was a new experience for us. Like the rest of the British Isles, it’s a beautiful country with warm, welcoming residents, but it’s got a personality all its own. Located on the west coast of the Isle of Britain, the entire country is about the size of Massachusetts, and we covered a lot of it on foot and by car, which really is the best way to see and get to know a place.

Here are some of our observations of wonderful Wales.

1. Sheep are practically everywhere. Not in the cities, of course, but as soon as we left the motorways and meandered onto the smaller roads, winding our way from village to village, the landscape was dominated by sheep. Because our trip coincided with the Easter holidays, we had the delightful privilege of seeing all the young spring lambs, frolicking (the only way to describe them) in the fields with their mothers. So adorable, and it never got old.

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SO cute!

2. The country roads are really narrow, and people drive really fast on them. In the villages, the speed limit is generally 30 miles per hour, but as soon as you cross outside the town limits, it jumps to 60 miles per hour. And believe me, people (definitely not us) do drive that fast. Sixty miles per hour on roads that twist and turn, frequently are bordered on both sides by high stone walls, and sometimes barely seem wide enough to fit one car, let alone two. Add the challenge of driving on the “wrong” side of the car and the road and it all adds up to a real adventure–and a few more gray hairs. But hey, that’s part of the experience.

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A two-way road–really??

3. Walking is huge. By walking, I don’t mean strolling-walking. I mean vigorous, get-your-heart-pumping hiking-walking, and Wales is the place to do it. Northern Wales is especially ruggedly beautiful, and the Snowdonia region, which surrounds Mount Snowdon, is the destination for walkers. We spontaneously pulled over by the side of the road to follow a stream of walkers preparing to tackle the hike up to the mountain’s peak (an elevation of 3,560 feet, the highest mountain in England), and while we decided not to attempt the full distance, our outing provided dramatic views of a lovely lake, the snow-capped peak in the distance, and free-roaming sheep (of course).

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Mount Snowdon and me.

4. Welsh is a fascinating language. English is spoken throughout Wales, but Welsh (also known as Cymraeg) is very much alive and well–and absolutely is not a form of English. Schoolchildren learn it as a first or second language, and because the country is officially bilingual, most everything is written in both Welsh and English. Interestingly, when we first crossed the border into Wales from England, signs were in English first and Welsh second, but as we progressed deeper into the country, the order changed. Could we pronounce a word of it? Not a bit, although we tried, much to the gentle amusement of the native Welsh speakers.

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Most definitely NOT an English dialect.

Stay Ever Irish (and Welsh),
Laura

Three Reasons We’re Learning to Hate Winter Just a Little Bit Less

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Living where we live (deep in the Midwest), we’ve pretty much come to dread the months by the names of December, January, February, and sometimes March. And this winter, in particular, has been especially dreadful. Sub-zero temperatures, snow up to our knees, icy winds that could cut right through steel…. Yeah.

However, we’re glass-half-full types, so we’ve decided to take a positive spin on this frigid time of year. No, we’re not learning to love winter. We’re happy just finding ways to hate it a little bit less. We share those reasons with you, below.

1. Sweaters, sweaters, and more sweaters
The warmer, the woolier, the better. Those Irish fishermen’s wives sure knew what they were doing when they picked up their needles to knit the original Aran sweaters. May we suggest some perfectly delightful men’s Irish wool sweaters and women’s Irish wool sweaters to keep you toasty? Take that, Old Man Winter!

2. Irish Coffee
The original Irish coffee was invented in the 1940s for a specific purpose: to warm up travelers arriving at Shannon Airport in the days when a transatlantic flight meant 12 long hours in a lumbering plane. We can travel from the U.S. to Ireland much more quickly these days, but that warming, bracing brew is still what the doctor ordered.

Irish coffee

2 ounces Irish whiskey
4 ounces hot black coffee
1–3 teaspoons brown sugar
1-1/2 ounces cold heavy cream

In a small, prewarmed mug, dissolve the sugar in the coffee. Stir in the whiskey. Slowly pour in the cream over the back of a spoon so the cream forms a distinct layer on top. Don’t stir—sip through the cream. Ahh.

3. Movie Night
It may be blizzarding outside, but there’s (almost) no better way to pass the time when we’re stuck inside than curling up with a good movie. Our friends at Irish Central recommend a few great Irish ones. 

“Waking Ned Devine”
A charming comedy set in a tiny, rural Irish town. When lottery winner Ned Devine is found dead—lottery ticket in hand and all—the townsfolk band together to fool the authorities into thinking Ned is alive, so they can receive the cash and share it.

“Once”
A beautiful, romantic, original musical set in the streets of Dublin. Glen Hansard of The Frames plays a street musician who meets a fellow musician and Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova). Together they work through pain, the past, and new love through captivating music. Hansard and Irglova won the Oscar for Best Original Song (2007).

“In the Name of the Father”
An Oscar-nominated film based on the real-life experiences of Gerry Conlon, the alleged leader of the Guildford Four. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Conlon, a Belfast man wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 IRA bombing of a pub in the U.K. Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, “In the Name of the Father” shows one man’s 15-year struggle for his innocence and for truth.

“The Field”
A story about an Irishman’s love of his land from director Jim Sheridan. Bull McCabe (played by Richard Harris, who was nominated for an Oscar for the role) is a farmer in Ireland’s rural west. When his field is threatened to be sold to an outsider, Bull will do anything in his power to stop it from happening. An unforgettable film about the conflict between “old” and “new” Ireland.

“My Left Foot”
A true story about an Irishman who overcomes his disability to become an amazing painter, poet, and writer. Another film from Jim Sheridan, it documents the extraordinary life of Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), a working-class Irishman born with crippling cerebral palsy. With the encouragement of his mother, played by Brenda Fricker, Christy learns to write and draw with his only functional limb—his left foot. Both Day-Lewis and Fricker won Academy Awards for their roles.

“The Quiet Man”
A beloved classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. This romantic drama from director John Ford tells the story of Sean Thornton, a retired American boxer who relocates to Ireland to reclaim his family’s farm, and Mary Kate Danaher, the fiery Irishwoman he falls in love with. Though its portrayal of Ireland may be a bit outdated, the film is a genuine tribute to Eire, and it’s both an American and Irish favorite.

“The Commitments”
A legendary Irish film about a group of down-and-out Dubliners who form a soul band. Jimmy Rabbitte has dreams of creating the ultimate soul group, and succeeds in bringing together a bunch of talented, eclectic characters. But eventually personalities clash, and the survival of the band is threatened. This adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel featured a relatively unknown cast at the time, but was welcomed with critical acclaim and a successful box office run.

Stay Ever Irish (and warm!),
Laura